Sunday, February 5, 2012

New Law Opens Door to Cottage Food Operations

February 5, 2012

Maybe you’ve heard the buzz. In the farming community, it’s been hotly anticipated for months: a proposed law would allow home producers to make low-risk foods like jam, pickles, bread, and baked goods from their home kitchens to sell at farmers’ markets and other direct-selling venues.

It passed!

The Cottage Food Operations Law, or Senate Bill 5748, was signed into law by Governor Gregoire on July 22, 2011. Let me break it down for you in plain English, (though make sure you read the entire document yourself if you wish to begin selling anything) it states that food processors may operate from a home kitchen and directly sell to customers up to $15,000 in gross sales per year with all the proper license and inspection of course.
Welcome to the market- Photo Credit Photography by Lindsey

This is a game-changer for Washington State farmers’ markets.

By eliminating the need for newcomers to find or build a commercial kitchen for all of their processing, the state has given a major boost to the diversity of farmers’ market vendors, and opened a new avenue for families to supplement their income with ingenuity and a little spare time. But don’t roll your sleeves up and get to dough-kneading just yet; unfortunately, the law is still in the rule-making process. A representative at the Department of Agriculture told us Friday that, in all likelihood, it will be two to three months before the applications for cottage food processors will be made available. A public hearing must take place, administrative details must be put in order, and specifications to exactly which foods fall under the category of “low-risk” must be defined. Then, once cottage processors can apply, the department expects a flood of applications, and the waiting period for approval may be as long as two additional months. (However, possibly just in time for the opening weekend of the Arlington Farmers' Market July 7th 2012!)

Given that we are currently in the off-season for most farmers’ markets though, now is the perfect time to strategize while you wait. If you’ve dreamed of selling artisan bread, take the next few months to come up with a stellar business name, stock up on stoneware bread pans, and determine your pricing. If you’re a pie champion, spend the waiting period making cute, hand-lettered signs for all of your different flavors and perfecting new recipes. And for goodness sake don't forget to contact your local farmers market managers to request pricing and applications!

Mom's Pantry, Raspberry Chocolate Sauce- Photo Credit Arlington Farmers Market

Ultimately, we at the AFM believe this law will turn a lot of employees into entrepreneurs. The season of 2012 will see lots of part-time market vendors who are testing the waters out, thanks to the lowered regulation. Many of those part-timers will find that they are successful and want to outsell the $15,000 cap, thereby taking the jump from cottage processor to full-time processor—a smaller leap of faith than it would be to quit your day-job, build or lease a commercial kitchen, and hope to hell that someone buys your jam :-)

Details on license cost, public hearing notification, and the current scope of “low-risk” can be found on the website for the WA Dept of Agriculture:

And, of course, we will keep our ear to the ground and bring you news as soon as it develops. Subscribe to our blog or like us on Facebook to get the latest Arlington Farmers’ Market news delivered to your email so you won’t miss a beat!

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